NSP is the largest development program in Afghanistan’s history and is unusually popular. Though it is funded by the World Bank and foreign governments like any other development scheme, the Afghans own the process. Afghan government administers the NSP to 29,000 villages through a system of elected local community development councils (CDCs), which decide on infrastructure projects for their community. These councils are not the usual circles of bearded men. For a village to receive aid, half of the CDC members must be women and at least one project must be targeted to women’s needs.
What is the impact of this program on women in this male-dominated society? That is one of the parameters Professor Christia is evaluating in a randomized field experiment. Because the program could not be delivered to all villages at once, she was able to select 250 villages for the treatment group and 250 similar villages for the control group. Her team of dedicated enumerators trekked to these remote villages to survey and interview residents in 2007, before projects commenced, then in 2009, and finally in 2011 when the projects were completed. The final evaluation results are not yet available, but Professor Christia shared some preliminary findings.
Changing entrenched gender roles is difficult enough at Harvard and MIT, not to mention a conservative village in the heart of a country ravaged by civil war.With that in mind, Professor Christia makes a compelling case that the NSP and the ongoing participation of women in local decisions is critical to moving Afghanistan forward. For instance, in selecting infrastructure projects for their communities, women were more likely than men to invest in wells and schools. Perhaps with a shorter distance to haul water, their daughters will be more likely to go to school.
Anya Malkov is an MPP candidate at the Harvard Kennedy School, a WAPPP Cultural Bridge Fellow, and an alumna of From Harvard Square to the Oval Office.